Welcome to another thrilling episode of… The IndieNet and Beyond! It’s news and web series episodes. This time, I chat with writer & director Tony E. Valenzuela, creator of the horror anthology web series BlackBoxTV.
Tony E. Valenzuela is an experienced filmmaker and YouTube content creator who has created his own YouTube channel, which focuses primarily on a horror/scifi anthology series called BlackBoxTV Presents. At the time of this interview, we are 18 episodes into the anthology series that has horror and scifi shorts, combining compact storytelling, eye-catching cinematography, and well paced music with twists that often pull at our primal fear of–or fundamental desire to explore–the unknown.
BlackBoxTV is a very different channel compared to many of the other popular comedy YouTube channels, but Valenzuela sees that as a strength which shows us the future for the platform.
“BlackBoxTV is a YouTube channel that is specifically short films and draws a lot of inspiration from more genre filmmaking: more horror and sci-fi, thriller based content. So obviously, that sets us apart from most of the comedy channels on YouTube,” explains Valenzuela. “That also makes me Sisyphus pushing a rock up a hill, because I also don’t do videos like ‘Lady Gaga Was Killed’ or ‘Justin Bieber is my Best Friend.’ Those are not titles you will find in my stuff, even though I love a lot of that content. There is a lot of fun stuff out there—[YouTube content creators] Shane Dawson and Phil DeFranco—there is a lot of entertaining and great stuff on YouTube.”
YouTube is a sort of filmmaking homebase for Valenzuela. Starting in 2008, many of the projects he has worked on have found their home there.
“I’ve always told stories on YouTube and so BlackBoxTV is an extension of that. I started on YouTube in 2008 with my first scripted web series. It was called 2009 A True Story. It’s sort of an apocalyptic view of our future as a country,” said Valenzuela. “It was set a year from the time it was uploaded. After that I did Harper’s Globe with John Turtletaub and the guys who created LonelyGirl15 , which was also scripted. It was really really fun and I worked with Melanie Merkosky who ended up in an episode of BlackBoxTV.”
But Valenzuela just wasn’t finding that “darker side” of storytelling he was craving to explore. A short on [the webseries] The Station helped him towards that creative path and eventually creating BlackBoxTV.
“I directed a short for The Station called Zombies. I decided after my foray into lighter content that I wanted to stray to the dark side, but I didn’t know exactly how. It was horror played for gags. It was quite fun, a lot of really talented people at The Station. And I went to work for Phil DeFranco after that… all of his sort of different endeavors,” said Valenzuela. “And about a year ago, I wanted to create a scripted show on YouTube that follows my passion of writing and telling short stories. I’ve always believed YouTube is a place for all kinds of content, so it’s been really fantastic and the fact the channel has done so well. The fact a narrative… sort of darker channel is able to survive on YouTube is a great testament to YouTube and the platform and how much it is growing and changing.”
Valenzuela also talked more about his childhood and what influences helped shape his creative mind, especially Ray Bradbury and the book Amityville Horror.
“Everybody says they were a dork now. It’s the sort of cool thing to say you are a geek. But I was a guy that had a really difficult time communicating with other people,” said Valenzuela. “I was always very much in my own head. And the library was like my temple, it was like my church. So I would go there and read all of these books about all these different worlds and things. I was always drawn to scif-fi.”
“Here is a vision for you: I am in front of a Pick ‘n Save, it’s October. I’m selling candy bars for student government, but I’m not selling enough candy bars because I sit in front of Pick ‘n Save reading Ray Bradbury instead of hocking my candy bars,” said Valenzuela. “I’ll never forget there is a short story called The October Game and it scared the shit out of me. The thing that was so special wasn’t that it just scared you: it made you think. The world was suddenly a much more complicated place. There was suddenly more opportunities and more paths you can travel. I grew up and my parents were fairly allergic to holding a steady job, so there was never any money. But imagination is so inexpensive. For me, that is the great thing about scif-fi is that there was these great new ideas.”
Although BlackBoxTV dabbles in scif-fi on occasion, it has far more horror. So where did that horror influence come from? Turns out, that darker influence started when, at young age, he tried to read a certain famous horror novel.
“My young impressionable mind had no business reading Edgar Allen Poe and books like that when I was a kid. I read Amityville Horror when I was eleven years old, because I saw it in the library and it had this really scary cover. I remember being so terrified because I thought it was a true story. I remember reading about four or five chapters in and feeling this presence in my house with me, which by the way that presence was fear. And I went and I took the book and ripped all of the pages out and threw it in the trash. And I was like, ‘Away from me, dark object!’,” laughed Valenzuela. “But I love how BlackBoxTV… we straddle that line. Like in episode two: is that horror or scif-fi? Depends on who you ask. Episode three is straight up horror in the outset, but then the result is something very human and totally human. I’ve been playing a lot with demons lately as far as Deumos Kisses.”
Although there are a growing number of scripted non-comedies hitting the web faster than ever, there aren’t many anthology series. So why the anthology path versus an ongoing series?
“First off: huge fan of Twilight Zone and radio shows like Box 13. My mom always got me into all that stuff. My mom is huge into storytelling and it’s a very big deal to her. I had already done web series and there’s something really cool about doing an anthology series in which you are sort of able to learn… every single episode that I do I learn from it. I obviously make a lot of mistakes, especially with the budget that we’re working with. It’s painful as you’re reading the comments from thirteen year-old kids who saw something you couldn’t see at ten o’clock at night while you’re editing the episode,” said Valenzuela.
“But that being said, I feel like with every episode I get a chance to tell a new story, to dive into a new part of not only my experience, but the shared common experience around fear and based around imagination. It’s kind of cool because I never really get stuck in idea. I think the horror aspect of BlackBoxTV I’ve worked on a lot more than scif-fi… Somebody asked a couple of weeks ago why didn’t I do an even mixture of horror with scif-fi? The problem with scif-fi [is] it’s all about the ‘lights are on.’ Meaning the lights are on and you see it and that is the thing you’ve never seen before… it’s a spacecraft or an ideology or something that doesn’t exist in this time and you have to show that. But with horror, it’s ‘light off.’ I flew to Detroit to talk to [Wes Craven] about My Soul To Take last year and he said that the great thing about horror is you can use the theater of the mind, because people bring so much of their own baggage to the darkness already. As soon as you flick out the lights, people are instantly projecting onto it what they think or feel is there. So by showing less, you are showing more,” explained Valenzuela.
Valenzuela actually asked for submissions for story ideas for the series, but was quickly swamped with ideas and stopped when he hit 5,500 ideas.
“I did use a couple of them, which is exciting. I plan to use more. But it’s a slippery slope. And a lot of times… 99% of the time the ideas were completely inappropriate for BlackBoxTV,” said Valenzuela. “Like, I got comedy sketches and romcom’s sent to me. But at the same time, I’m just glad people got excited about it. I don’t know if I would do that again, because people get pissed when you don’t pick their ideas about hacking their parents into pieces… they get upset when you don’t want to do the reveal where the incest is happening in the end of the episode. Incest can not be a reveal!”
So what advice does Valenzuela have for those wanting to make a web series… besides not using incest as a reveal.
“Do something original. Don’t be the frustrated television guy that just settles for the web. Be the guy who creates something unique and special on the web that couldn’t be shown anyone else, because that also gives you competitively an advantage. Try to be as unique as possible,” suggested Valenzuela. “I think the biggest thing I can tell you is only do something you love, because the amount of work that goes into it and the lack of true funding most of us have, it is going to prevent you from finishing something you don’t absolutely love. For me that is why BlackBoxTV is the obvious choice, because I love this kind of storytelling. The thing that keeps me going is that one more opportunity to tell that story that will effect me in that way that those Ray Bradbury stories affected me as a kid.”
Coming up is a “capes and cowl” episode for Comic-Con that Valenzuela is excited about because he is a huge comic book fan. The channel has also been branching out into live shows where they visit haunted locations and an upcoming top secret new series called Find Me.
“Chuck Palahniuk, the writer of Fight Club, he wrote a book called Diary: A Novel. I loved that he outwardly said ‘this is a true lie.’ I always loved the idea of creating true experiences that are fiction. Find Me will be one of those experiences. Where you will have the opportunity to engage and enjoy a happening that is played completely as a real experience. It’s going to be… part of it live, part of it on YouTube. There will tons of stuff to collect and find. It is not going to be like an ARG (Alternate Reality Game) like you have to get everything to enjoy the experience. On the outside, it is a deceptively simple experience. I can just say this… A girl will go missing at the beginning of October of this year and with your help, there is a possibility we just might find her,” Valenzuela cryptically said.
New episodes of BlackBoxTV presents come out every other week, usually on Sundays. Below is the first episode and a couple more recent episodes. You can find more at http://BlackBoxTelevision.com or http://www.youtube.com/user/blackboxtv
Attack Of The Trailers
Here is a teaser trailer for this new series from BlackBoxTV.
Mercury Men Retro Commercial – Sunday Movie
I love scifi-fi commercials, especially when they are retro. Check out the new Mercury Men retro commercial. On July 25th Mercury Men will premiere on SyFy’s website.
Elsewhere On The Web and Beyond
Our friends from ElfQuest: A Fan Imagining asked me to spread the word that they’ll be at Comic-Con International 2011 for the panel ElfQuest: From the Woods to the Web on Friday, July 22nd at 8pm. So if you are going to be at Comic-Con International this year stop by the panel and say hi to Stephanie Thorpe (GOLD: Night of the Zombie King) and Paula Rhodes (A Good Knight’s Quest).
My web series, Reality On Demand, has completed filming and now is in post-production. Woohoo! Special thanks to the cast and crew for all of their hard work.
What I’m Watching… Are You?
I’ve been scouring the web in search for new web series episodes to watch and share with you. Enjoy!
Blood and Bone China – Chapter 8 – ‘Leonora’
Blood and Bones China is a Victorian vampire web series that quickly became one of my new favorites. It’s fun and fast… with a bite. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Need someone saved? Then call The Extractor. The action-packed low budget web series has a lot of cool action scenes you don’t often see in web series. I look forward to seeing more episodes and watching where the story goes.
“Sam Macaroni rescues a congressman’s daughter in the first installment of The Extractor.”
Haywire – Episode 9: “The Ties That Bind”
A new episode of the horror scifi series called Haywire.
Rigamortis: A Zombie Love Story – Part 1 of 3
What happens when you mix the musical fun of Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog with zombies? You get the zomromcom Rigamortis: A Zombie Love Story.
That’s A Wrap
Got a web series, web comic, web… whatever, then I want to know about it. Contact me at: [email protected]scifipulse.net
That’s a wrap for now, join me next time for more news and interviews coming to a Wednesday near you. Take care friends. Until next time… marX out.
You can follow me on Twitter@MrMarx
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Marx H. Pyle is a writer, martial artist and American independent filmmaker. A graduate of Vancouver Film School, he has worked on a number of projects including the short film he wrote and directed, Silence of the Belle. He is currently in post-production of his scifi web series Reality On Demand.